Andy & Kyle, More commonly known as penny & Sparrow, have no qualms wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
by Rey Joaquin
It’s hard to listen to Penny & Sparrow’s music without finding yourself in a place where the levity of life and existence is interwoven so delicately that at the turn of the corner, you could only imagine the emotions that would greet you. As they emerge from the bunker of pandemic isolation, Andy and Kyle share their immediate thoughts and emotions about life, friendship, love, and going on tour again.
On New Music
Rey: Olly Olly is your 6th studio album, 1st self-produced album. What’s the inspo, creative brief — the spark that induced this Olly Olly oxen-free lifestyle?
Andy: Thank you for calling me by my Christian name, I will take the creative inspo portion. You take the self-producing portion. Rey, this album (like many of our other albums) comes out of where we are now — who we are now. What makes this one decidedly unique, for me personally (and Kyle, maybe), is the fact that this is the most comfortable we’ve ever been in our own skin and the most excited we’ve been to be fully ourselves. Musically speaking, melody, lyrics, production — all that stuff, this feels like the freest we’ve ever been. In my opinion, it’s what makes the end result this really tough to genre-identify album that goes in a bunch of different directions, and covers a huge spectrum of interests and avenues we wanted to go down on. Creatively, we want to keep one-upping ourselves and each other as we write music together, and I think this is the best we’ve ever been at our craft. And it’s so nice that this confluence of events is coming together at the same time that we decided to self-produce.
Kyle: It’s something that me and Andy had, a draw and desire to have our hands at literally every single aspect of what we release so much so that it’s really hard sometimes to work with people outside of us because we take so long to form and have so many opinions — me and Andy have to absolutely love it. And we’ve always had an interest in production, so I think the idea of doing a self-produced album was kind of on the horizon anyway. At the same time, we were kinda forced into being 100% ourselves, to do an album based fully on self-expression because that’s all we know. We’re just trying our best.
Rey: I’ve obviously listened to your music all these years, and every time an album comes out, I’ve said this is your best work yet. But this actually feels very familiar yet super uncharted at the same time from some of the themes and topics you’ve explored in the past. I mean, am I totally off-base in saying that? This album almost feels like throwing shade at a place from which we came.
Kyle: You’re pretty spot on.
Andy: Yep. I have answers, but so does Kyle. I wanna address the fun one. In the most roundabout way ever you said, “it feels like you’re throwing shade at a way of life we used to come from,” and the answer is yes. I’m gonna call a spade a spade, there are certain iterations of myself, certain things that I now look at and find restrictive, unloving, unkind, and reductionist. So because of that fact, it’s so fun to be totally free and unencumbered by what would be socially normal or frowned upon by members of a community that I’m not part of anymore. That’s just not how I see it anymore. I didn’t feel like I was throwing shade at any particular humans, it’s more ideological shade if such a thing can be done. What I was trying to do lyrically, most bluntly in a song called Eden/Lia, is me talking about the journey of going through realization, to anger, to frustration, to processing, to mourning, to rebirth, to peaceful reconciliation with early iterations of myself. I talk about the lyrics because that’s mainly the portion I was working on, but I also know my best friend like the back of my hand, and I know that everyone is on their own journey, but his and mine happen to be very similar. This record, unlike ones previously, is so unashamed to be more blunt than ever, but hopefully still in a poetic way.
Kyle: I feel like the way we came about this album, and life in general, is mainly because I grew up with a bunch of shoulds and shouldn’ts, or nobody does this type of thing — all the way to the point where guilt is involved. Even musically, there’s a lot of “that’s not who you guys are, that’s too experimental,” and I just wanted out of that world. I feel like every time I heard someone tell me “you can’t do this, it doesn’t work musically,” it just made me want to do it. Most of my life was spent following the rules and playing it safe and not doing anything risky. And now that I’ve done them, I don’t even feel like they’re all that risky. It’s a bunch of trying and pulling on different threads in a practical way, musical way, spiritual way. This is kind of just what we ended up with.
Kyle and I always say ‘wear the purple suit.’ it’s an ongoing metaphor to say to each other, ‘let there be nothing that we can’t try or do.’
Rey: Going back to music, in terms of breaking out of the mold and expectations of your former and current audience, even the industry — Muscle Shoals and Florence [Alabama] — some might expect a specific type of sound to come out of you guys. The most audible contrast to me is Over-Under-Lude, the song you got to work on with Tobe Nwigwe. He’s super interesting and he’s occupying a space most people would classify as Hip Hop/R&B. How was that experience like?
Kyle: Well, we met him through some mutual friends, and we were both mutual fans of each others’ work. I think that what he’s doing in the Hip Hop/R&B world is — he’s taking up his own space. He’s found his niche and his thing. In my opinion, he’s one of the best in his craft right now. I don’t know what the kids say these days.
Rey: They say “It’s lit, fam.”
Kyle: Yeah he’s lit. He’s just really really talented, and he’s doing it uniquely his way. In a lot of ways, that’s what I’m hoping to be. And so I think it was an easy thing, I really like him and if he wants to work on this project, he can do whatever on any track. He listened to it, and honestly, before we even knew it, he was in Over-Under-Lude, which was really cool.
Andy: I like the idea of no longer being the people that say things like this: “Oh, I could never wear that,” or “I can’t pull that off.” In reality, just like anybody else, I have a body that can hold clothes, I can wear anything. So the question isn’t “Can I pull that off?” but “What do I want to wear?” And then, you put that shit on and feel powerful and sexy and alive wearing whatever it is. I think that’s why so many conversations around this album revolve around fashion, dressing and undressing, because this thought was running through my brain a whole lot. Kyle and I always say “wear the purple suit.” It’s an ongoing metaphor to say to each other, “let there be nothing that we can’t try or do.” I’d rather have phases of my life where I try every manner of clothing and walk in and out of rooms regardless of how comfortable [or uncomfortable] other people might feel.
Rey: I’m sure this is very intentional because you guys are brilliant people, but in terms of the purple suit, for someone like me who listens and looks up to you both, when I hear that and unpack the layers, the entendres of that line — to me, that’s so inspiring. Because there are these two awesome dudes that I love who aren’t afraid to go there despite what others might think about them, or what people might speculate. I mean that’s an aside, but that goes into your friendship with each other. You’ve known each other for so long, and it’s fascinating to watch. But what was it that made you say, “Oh, this dude is tight. I wanna hang out with him?”
Both: Well —
Andy: Go ahead, buddy. You go.
Kyle: No, you go!
Andy: Oh, sweet man. We get along really well. We’ve also done a thing that most people in their entire life will never have outside of their partner if they decide to venture into the world of monogamy. I have spent an expert’s level of hours being around Kyle, talking to him about everything, in good days, bad days, and everything in between. There aren’t taboos between us by virtue of us being so close and logging the hours of trust. We find ourselves talking through the changes in the evolution of us and realizing we’re on the same page — it is an unbelievable joy. Honestly, I don’t think we’d be able to work as closely as we do if we didn’t find ourselves on similar footing. There are a billion things I love about my best friend, and as different as we are in a lot of ways, all of the core value shit is there.
Rey: It’s enviable to watch you guys.
Kyle: Yeah, we must have — what’s the expert amount?
Both: 10,000 hours.
Kyle: We got that in pillow talk, my man. In the Wyndham. Or the DoubleTree just chillin. I mean, first of all, I adore him and am very inspired by him always. There’s a mutual…well, I hope it’s mutual…adoration for the other person and how we’re processing life. And I get to do that with him, and I don’t feel judged for anything. He knows me now so well that there is no need for judgment. He’s the funniest person I know, he always makes me laugh. I think that’s how it started. This [making music] was our excuse to hang out. I also think we’re both on the same side of the gradient in terms of sensitivity, emotionally.
Rey: What does that mean?
Kyle: I don’t know. Feel things on a level that like…well, maybe everybody feels this way? I just get to process all these things with Andy.
Rey: I don’t think so, I don’t think everybody feels that way. Because then I don’t think we’d have all these toxic straight men wrecking the world.
Andy: In the same way that I can’t climb in someone else’s mouth and know how they taste something, I have no idea how somebody can feel the way that they feel. But I value wearing my heart on a sleeve to such a degree that when I feel something, the older that I get, I want to respond as physically in real-time as a thing hits me. We don’t have the social freedom, mostly in the U.S., to do that. We often try to bottle and cork our emotions so quickly. With Kyle, I am just so comfortable with his emotions and his brain and his heart and the way that he loves me and the way that I love him that I don’t ever have to plug that.
Kyle: Also, I’m processing all this now. I feel like we get paid to do this. In a weird way, we have created our music and jobs to be centered around us processing life together, which is amazing. And I’m thankful we get to do that. I just wish everybody had this type of opportunity.
Rey: Yeah, I mean most people pay to have space to be vulnerable and process with someone their emotions.
Andy: We value that, too. And I think one of the benefits of therapy in any way that it comes to you, whatever form it takes, is that it massages and works out an atrophied muscle that our culture almost tries to squeeze into submission. This conversation is the type of culture that we’ve created with each other, this type of conversation right now, on the regular.
On Past Selves
Rey: Swinging back to the album, there’s a specific verse in Voodoo that reads,
“Blessed is moving on
Blessed be, how does it feel?
Playing it now is surreal
Blessing the new and the old me
And blessed be the beauty in loving both.”
It goes back to what we were talking about earlier, the idea of our past selves and learning to not look away from that, but can we expand on this? I mean, I was truly deceased when I heard this.
Andy: I feel like I stumbled upon the best way to describe this song the other day, that it’s actually a sex parable. Through that avenue, just like any other parable in life be it ones told by Jesus or Buddha, or anybody telling a story with an end game that is a lesson — I used sex and beatitudinal language to talk about a bunch of things. One of them is a reimagination of what it would have been like to have grown up with freedom of sexuality that I now have but didn’t possess back in the day. Another thing is I’ve spent a stupendous amount of time not loving past iterations of me. Not being kind to a younger version of myself, actually hating myself. When I’m really honest now, I can look back and say, “God, Andy was trying his best. He really was doing the best that he could at the time with the cards that he had.” I’m much kinder and softer to earlier versions of myself now, way more gentle I would say. I get to look at this song and imagine what it would be like to arrive here much quicker, at this level of self-love, but hey, that’s okay. When you genuinely clamp down on the fact that people are simply trying their best in figuring shit out, it lets you be more peaceful. Not only to those around you, but also towards yourself.
Rey: There’s a song called Need You on the record that I couldn’t stop listening to. What’s the story behind this one?
Kyle: I had the melody back in 2018, I knew I liked it and it would eventually be a song. The whole pandemic was all about making sure it would shape up to exactly how we wanted it to feel and sound like. If I remember correctly, this one took a long time to find the right lyrics. Andy struggled to figure out exactly what he wanted to say till the very last minute, but here we are.
Andy: It’s pretty rare to remember a specific origin story to a song. This one was one of those. It started with two little baby seeds. One was junior mints. I love junior mints and wanted to sing about them in a song. The bigger seed that kinda unlocked everything was Florence Pugh posting an open letter to the cast and crew of Midsommar — specifically the folks that she acted with in that scene. The empathy-personified, mirrored emotions scene. In the last paragraph, she calls that time that she spent with those people, “proud hours.” They were really proud hours to her. And to me, everything blew up inside my brain and I knew then all the ingredients that would go in the crockpot for this song. I wanted to use Ari Aster films to do it, specifically Midsommar and Hereditary. To talk about such intense and aggressive emotions, both the good and the bad of relationships. We ended up with this weird dream sequence of a drive-in double feature where the person sort of fades in and out of the films living their own romance at the same exact time.
On Touring and Other Things
Rey: You guys are about to tour again, are you excited?
Kyle: I am nervous as hell.
Kyle: I haven’t played a live show in almost 2 years! Andy and I were practicing and I was nervous, and I kept asking “Do we still have it?”
Andy: We still got it.
Kyle: I’m still very nervous, even though I shouldn’t be.
Rey: But that’s good! It grounds you. It’s like, “Oh man, I’m alive because I have the nerves, still.”
Kyle: Yeah, that is a great perspective to keep in mind. I’ll remember that while I fight my anxiety attack on stage.
Andy: Nerves are a great indicator that you still give a shit. And I know we still do.
Rey: Last question. F***, Mary, Kill: Frank Ocean, Justin Vernon, and John Paul White.
Kyle: Holy shit.
Andy: This is easy for me. I mean, this is a layup. Kyle, you can go and you might have totally different answers. Here’s the, in my opinion, correct response.
Kyle: Okay, I’m gonna go for correct as well!
Andy: Okay, ready?
Kyle: Wait, should we do it at the same time? Let’s do it at the same time, I’m gonna count.
Andy: Okay, Marry 1, 2, 3 and then you say it?
Andy: Okay I’m ready.
Kyle: Wait hold on, now I’m —
Andy: Kyle, Kyle. I think we should start with F***.
Kyle: Oh I mean, we know this one.
Rey: Oh, I know this one.
Andy: 1, 2, 3 —
Both: Frank Ocean.
Kyle: You can’t be talking about sex all that much if you weren’t good at it. I just wanna experience that.
Andy: My phone glitched so hard from us laughing. But Frank Ocean, without a doubt. Marry next, you ready?
Kyle: I think I’m ready.
Andy: 1, 2, 3 —
Both: John Paul White
Rey: Marry John Paul White, okay why?
Andy: Absolutely. I know we would have a great life together.
Kyle: [Laughs] This is so true! That’s what’s funny about this.
Andy: This is so easy for me. I’d f*** Frank, marry John Paul, and then kill Justin Vernon.
Kyle: I think we have to kill him anyway.
Rey: Why is that?
Kyle: I feel like we just have to. This town’s not big enough.
Rey: God, we’re gonna get canceled for this.
Andy: Listen, the only reason I have to kill Justin is because I wanna f*** Frank, and obviously John Paul and I would have such a great time watching scary movies, reading books, and listening to sad music all the time. Whether we consummate our nuptials or not, we would have a good, quiet life together.
Kyle: That is so true. Like that is actually true.
Andy: With Justin Vernon gone, there would be less competition.
Rey: Yeah, that guy is mad talented. He needs to be killed.
Photography courtesy of Noah Tidmore.